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Head of human rights group says situation for free speech in West Bank worse than Gaza
By Daniella Peled / 17 January 2014
A leading Palestinian human rights activist has claimed that freedom of speech is far greater under the Hamas regime in Gaza than in the Fatah-controlled West Bank.
Khalil Abu Shamala, director of the al-Dameer Centre For Human Rights – which works in both Gaza and the West Bank – said that although there were still occasional arrests of Fatah members, “nowadays we don’t document many violations”.
He noted that this was partly down to Hamas’s weakness in the face of international pressures, particularly the breakdown of relations with the Egyptian regime.
In the past, Hamas has made large-scale arrests of journalists and called many others in for questioning, with opposition activists and bloggers facing harassment.
But although abuses still occurred in Gaza, Abu Shamala said that government forces in the Palestinian Authority–controlled West Bank took much harsher action against critics.
“Freedom of expression in Gaza is better than in the West Bank,” he told Index on Censorship. “We have many cases where the PA arrest and attack people because they criticize them on Facebook, and many Facebookers in the West Bank use alternative names, not their real names. But here, they speak without any harassment by Hamas.”
A rift between Hamas and Fatah, which culminated in the Islamist group seizing power in the Strip in 2007, has led to the creation of two near-separate entities in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas refuses to recognise the Jewish state and is under an embargo by Israel and the international community.
“I don’t know why, but in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority security systems have cooperation and coordination with Israel – and they don’t want to give the opportunity for a third intifada, and they don’t want to allow Hamas or those who are against the Palestinian Authority [to speak out] because they know many of the Palestinians in the West Bank hate the Palestinian Authority,” Abu Shammala continued.
Hamas has previously issued proceedings against Abu Shamala for his outspoken criticism of the Islamist group.
“After they took over Gaza, they wanted from the beginning to impose their Islamic agenda on the society,” he said, adding that his organisations and others had tried to combat these efforts.
The Hamas deputy foreign minister, Ghazi Hamed, denies that his government took any action to silence their critics.
“We are not oppressing people and people can speak loudly, can criticise the government, can criticise Hamas,” said Hamed. “We never put anyone in jail who criticizes Hamas or write something against Hamas. We have different organisations, political parties, even writers, they have full freedom to write what they want.”
The next issue of Index on Censorship magazine What’s the Taboo?: Why breaking down social barriers matters, explores worldwide taboos in all their guises, and why they matter. With articles from Shazia Mirza and David Baddiel, Alastair Campbell and a special section of cartoonists from around the world.